Wired.com’s New York editor, John C. Abell, has posted what at first glance looks like another one of those “why e-books aren’t all that great” articles that e-book fans either point and laugh or gnash their teeth at.

But actually, Abell explains, he likes e-books himself—he hasn’t bought anything in print since getting his iPad. Still, he sees five areas where e-books don’t quite live up to their print counterparts.

Some of these “problems” are more compelling than others:

  1. An unfinished e-book isn’t a constant reminder to finish reading it.
  2. You can’t keep your books all in one place.
  3. Notes in the margins help you think.
  4. E-books are positioned as disposable, but aren’t priced that way.
  5. E-books can’t be used for interior design.

Even Abell admits that the interior design gripe seems a bit shallow, and I have a hard time imagining too many book lovers who need reminders of unfinished books, but the other points he raises are ones we have mentioned before.

Unless you crack the DRM on every book you buy and load them all into Calibre, the way some readers do, sooner or later you are going to be faced with having bought e-books in more than one store, and being unable to access them all from one place can be annoyingly inconvenient. And although I have never been inclined to scribble margin notes in books I was reading—at least apart from college textbooks—some people make margin notes as a matter of course. And e-books can’t be passed on the way print books can, but we still pay significantly more than paperback price for new ones from the agency six.

Of course, these problems have been around for quite some time, and we don’t seem to be making much progress toward clearing them up. But the more people who complain about them, the more likely it is somebody will eventually do something about it. At least, that’s my hope.


  1. About # 3
    You can of course write notes in the margins in ebooks as well. It’s just a matter of your choice of e-reader. The Sonys does this without any problem and you can export these notes as well, should you wish to do so.
    About # 4
    Isn’t that exactly what they are? Priced as disposables? Come on. $ 0.99? In the rest of the world, such a price is joke, a mockery. Even $9.99 is. In the rest of the world people would gladly pay this and more. Why? Because the rest of the world would love to get their hands on the ebooks and wouldn’t give the price much thought. As it is, you can’t get hold of that many ebooks, so the price isn’t an issue.

    Take care
    Bookstore owner from Sweden
    (with the first online ebookstore as well – http://www.billingska.se)

  2. All of the points are shallow, except #2… which is just wrong. I keep all my ebooks in one place: On my cellphone. And I have backups on my PC, some of which I can transfer to my Nook Color to read. That’s three places where I can have ALL of my ebooks.

    To the other points:

    1. Unfinished ebook? When I start a book, I finish it.
    3. I don’t put notes in margins.
    4. I don’t consider ebooks disposable; I plan to keep them. The prices are very consistent with that.
    5. Ever see an iPad on a coffee table, in random display mode? My Nook Color will do the same thing. Kinetic design… that’s cool.

    These are all non-points… or, I should say, they’re points that mean something to Abell, but absolutely nothing to me and many others. Now, excuse me while I go brush my teeth.

  3. “You can’t keep your books all in one place.”

    Bah. All of my ebooks are in Calibre. Each and every one of them. From Amazon, B&N, Kobo, Fictionwise, Girlebooks, Baen, HorrorMall.com, etc. Almost 1,000 ebooks total.

  4. 1) Sure, if you are in the habit of starting numerous books and not finishing them, he has a point. Otherwise, I get a reminder that the book I’m currently reading isn’t finished yet every time I switch my reader on.
    2) Doesn’t Really Matter to some folks.
    3) My Sony handles notes, typed or handwritten, or doodles for that matter, with ease.
    4) While, yes, there are ebooks the same general price as paperbacks (or hardcovers) there are a lot of freebies and cheapies being offered all the time. Even if this were true for pbooks, there would still be the expense (time, fuel etc) of going to the various shops to get them.
    5) That’s my one concern about abandoning pbooks. No pretentious backdrop lined up for when the tv news shows want to interview me.

    At least he didn’t mention smell.

  5. I know California movie prices are a bit high, but $9.99 is the price of a movie and nobody complains that they can’t take it home, share it with their friends, etc. While I’m a believer in affordable pricing, I don’t think most eBooks are priced out of line.

    I actually find I lose paper books (under the bed, under stacks of other books) and thus have less of a reminder to keep reading them than their ever-present reminders in my reader.

    Yes, I agree that the world will be a happier place when all books can be read on all devices. Still, with Kindle and Nook for everything, we really don’t run into troubles too often–and even if we have to switch devices, it’s no more obtrusive than having to switch books–less, in fact, given that I don’t have to hunt through stacks.

    Rob Preece

  6. It is self evident to me that paper books have some advantages over eBooks. So what ? What does that mean ? eBooks will still drive them off the market because the advantages that they do have are critical and game changing.

    1. An unfinished e-book isn’t a constant reminder to finish reading it.
    How is an unfinished paper book a constant reminder ? do you leave it around the house splayed open on the last page you read ? I hope not ! that is so awful….

    2. You can’t keep your books all in one place.
    Well .. all of my eBooks are in one place. On my Kindle, with a copy on my iPhone.

    3. Notes in the margins help you think.
    Oye ! In >40 years of reading I have never ever written anything on a book ! Yuk !

    4. E-books are positioned as disposable, but aren’t priced that way.
    I don’t see anything ‘disposable’ about eBooks. Quite the contrary. They are in digital form and can last forever.

    E-books can’t be used for interior design.
    Thank God ! I hate the sight of shelves of mish mashed books in a house.

  7. No.

    1.An unfinished e-book isn’t a constant reminder to finish reading it.
    Seriously? If a book isn’t interesting enough for me to remember I’m reading it unless I trip over the physical book, dude, I don’t want to finish it.

    2.You can’t keep your books all in one place.
    Yes I can. I have 1700+ ebooks (all legal ebooks) from several different places which are all on my Kindle (in eleven pages of collections) and all 1700+ ebooks are also all on my desktop computer.

    3.Notes in the margins help you think.
    I read for pleasure, not to stop every few pages to make notes about what I’m reading. I’ve used the Notes feature on my Kindle a couple of times and it works fine.

    4.E-books are positioned as disposable, but aren’t priced that way.
    You’re confusing packaging with content. You may think ebooks are positioned as disposable but readers pretty much don’t. Reading is content, not the package it comes it. People who kept their physical books because they enjoy rereading books? Are keeping their ebooks.

    5.E-books can’t be used for interior design.
    Yes. And your point is? Books which depend on big photos also don’t come out in mass market paperbacks or audio versions.

  8. “I don’t see anything ‘disposable’ about eBooks. Quite the contrary. They are in digital form and can last forever.”

    I read the article, and the complaint is one you should be familiar with. “E-books can’t be shared, donated to your local library shelter, or re-sold…”. The summaries used the title points aren’t exact.

    “What does that mean?”

    It means we figure out what the current advantages are, so we know what we’re aiming at. Developers, early adopters, and the local geek who gets asked for advice on the New Thing. It’s called critical thinking :-).

    Writing a good feature request is really hard. It’s on the same level as a good bug report, but more open-ended. I don’t think this nailed it exactly; I have the same reaction to margin notes as you, outside of title pages and education (we had at least one individual poetry anthology in English, and most of us ended up scribbling on them as anticipated).

  9. “_some_ of which I can transfer to my Nook Color to read. That’s three places where I can have ALL of my ebooks.”

    (emphasis mine). That would be one example of uncritical thinking by an early adopter.

    Note that the OP is coming at this from the inside, pointing out problems with current implementations, and trying to suggest improvements. Not bashing because he doesn’t like ebooks; he’s explaining what he has difficulty with because he _does_ like them.

    I’m sure Steven is quite capable of dealing with as many different cellphone reading apps as he wants to, and distinguishing which books will work on his dedicated reader. Particularly if you’ve got a file browser working on the phone, as opposed to having to open the right app first, and then find the book. (Although that’s theoretically not supported by Epub: the file extension doesn’t tell you whose DRM it uses, so we’re making the assumption that all DRM’d Epubs use Adobe’s encryption key, and everyone who wants DRM is going to pay the Adobe license).

    But for me it’s something I want to spend as little mental bandwidth on as possible. The success of dedicated readers with dedicated stores suggests the OP and I are not exactly alone.

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